A new company is hoping to get in on one of the pandemic’s earliest and buzziest trends, by selling a kit to help people make their own frothy-sweet dalgona coffee. Remember that pillowy cloud of a drink? The one that was all over every social media platform in early pandemic days?
But Katie Angel, founder of Whipped Drinks, has landed herself in some very hot, frothy water, after claiming that she invented a drink almost identical to dalgona coffee. Of course, as Twitter users were quick to point out, Angel did not invent whipped coffee. The viral drink, made by whipping instant coffee, water, and sugar into a frantic foam, was made popular by the South Korean actor Jung Il-Woo, when he appeared on a television show, and was presented with the drink by Leong Kam Hon, a cafe owner in Macau. That was more than a year before Whipped Drinks claimed to invent this “whipped coffee creation.”
You have got to be kidding me. Is she really claiming that she “came up with the recipe” for dalgona coffee that was popularized by KOREANS?? It was NOT invented by a white woman. She even ripped off instant coffee packs. Fcking tired of this shit pic.twitter.com/1UlhVi5SWZ— bora (@modooborahae) April 11, 2021
A since-changed ‘about’ section on Whipped Drinks’ website claimed that Angel “improvised with premium instant coffee in her home kitchen to make a whipped coffee creation… After months of delicious trial and error, she finally came up with the recipe for Whipped Drinks.” The recipe in question is — you guessed it — pretty much the same as every other dalgona coffee recipe, with the addition of cocoa and sea salt. Some cocoa and a little extra salt does sound like a tasty addition, but it definitely isn’t enough to turn Whipped Drinks’ product into anything other than dalgona coffee with a flavor twist.
The coffee kit that Whipped Drinks is selling is a head-scratcher for a lot of reasons, not least of which is the price. The kit costs $49, which will get you a “high-speed frother,” a jug, “whip sticks” (read: instant coffee), and a recipe book. Good, responsibly-sourced coffee is expensive, and small business owners should be able to charge enough to support themselves and their workers. That said, this feels like quite a lot of money to spend on something we were all making a year ago, with the cheapest, most readily available pantry staples we had on hand. In many ways, that accessibility was the most soothing part of whipping up dalgona coffee during the most frightening months of the pandemic: We didn’t need expensive whisks or specialty coffee or a “gilded frothing jug” to do so. It was a small pleasure pretty much anyone could take part in, a global experience that demanded little more than sugar, cheap instant coffee, and a few extra minutes to post your creation to Instagram or TikTok.
But it’s not the price which upset the internet, so much as the fact that a white business owner claimed ownership of a drink which she very clearly lifted from a South Korean actor, who in turn popularized — with proper credit — the recipe of a man in Macau. It’s a form of theft and cultural erasure which has, time and time again, allowed white businesses to profit off of the labor and creativity of people of color, without those same people benefiting in the slightest. “White people have a history of claiming they ‘discovered’ recipes, warm water, and a continent someone else was already living in,” wrote one Twitter user. Another user pointed out that, really, there is nothing new about frothy coffee, saying that they’ve been “making ‘Dalgona’ Coffee with [their] grandma for last 20 years.” Others on Twitter commented that not only was the product not original, but before dalgona coffee went viral, whipped coffee drinks already had a long history in many parts of the world. “[W]hipped coffee has been a staple in desi countries for at least 40 plus years!” reads part of one Tweet. In an article published by Vice last year, the writer Bettina Makalintal explores the origins of the foamy coffee drink, writing that “the history and significance of whipped instant coffee goes way farther back than just a pandemic-inspired social media trend.” Though it seems the dalgona coffee most Americans are familiar with was created by the cafe owner Leong Kam Hon in Macau, similarly beaten and frothy coffee drinks are present across the globe.
Since the initial pushback, the website of Whipped Drinks has been updated to acknowledge that Angel did not create the drink, but instead “fell in love with the viral whipped coffee trend, also known as dalgona coffee, that originated in South Korea.” The updated origin story is notably lacking the details of Angel’s long and arduous recipe development process, which is for the best, considering the drink has only three main ingredients and, well, already existed. In their most recent Instagram post, where comments are turned off, Whipped Drinks apologized, saying that the criticism and backlash “made us aware of the fact that we did not highlight the origins of the dalgona/whipped coffee trend and for that we apologize.” The company now says that a percentage of proceeds from every sale will go to the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.